How to write like . . . Neil Gaiman

Fourth in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Now I bring you a further retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, drawn from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm and in the style of the Dream King, Neil Gaiman. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it, but be warned this one is a dark horror story modelled around the Victorian Jack the Ripper or Dr Jekyll tales. Those below the age of consent or of a sensitive disposition should look away now. That said, come with me into the London fog with…

A Wolf in the Stomach
(after 
Neil Gaiman)

How she was found and the butcher shop display he’d made of her, so violent, so destructive… the doctor, a man not given to emotional outbursts, had to steady himself on the dresser as he breathed deeply and spoke as how he’d never seen the like. He was an animal, this killer, this wolf in the coat of a man. Posing the body like that, they muttered darkly in the corners of the candle lit room, is either the work of an evil man, or as one wag quipped, an ordinary demon.

Grandmother, an honorary title at best, also slain with a single, terrible knife swipe to the throat after hearing the screams of her ward and arriving at the bedroom door, lay in the hallway, her boots peeking around the wainscoting at its foot. It was she who had sent the red haired girl to the shop for wine and cake, to be shared between her and the other girls who worked at Grandmothers house down here at Three Oaks in the East End of London.

The girl, Miss Hood, had begun her journey back to the house of medium repute from the local shop in Wood Lane, it seems. Detective Inspector Lumberjacke sat in the corner, a procession of vague figures came and went, some to scrape and clean, some to catalogue and box. He considered her earlier journey as he watched her take her last, seeing it in his minds eye like a magic lantern show, slide after yellowing slide painted in gay colours, stained with cigar smoke and dust.

Lumberjacke, eyes closed, could see Miss Hood skipping to the shop along the cobbles by gaslight, choosing the cake and wine, and bidding the shopkeep good day intending to return… But the dark figure in the doorway blocked her path. The shopkeep said only that the man was tall, and all that could be seen of him in light from the gaslight under the shadow of his broad brimmed hat was his whiskers and his large, stained and long teeth as he smiled. The shopkeep, Mr Redcap, said he didn’t hear all of what was said to the girl by this imposing gentleman, but he described the tone of voice as a sort of low rasping whisper. The snippet he heard was something about not liking cake so much as apple dumplin’s, and all looking at her bosom. The voice sounded like the throat of the speaker was full of earth, he had said quietly, and adding with a visible shudder that it was not a voice he would forget in a month of Sundays.

The shopkeep viewed her listening to the man’s proposal, nodding and smiling sweetly, and waving a slightly distracted farewell to Mr Redcap, she had accompanied this wolf back to Grandmother’s house. Any other man making so untimely a proposal would have a sharp reply; “that’s my eye, Betty Martin” or “shut yer bone box” she normally would have shot back. But this proposal, these silken, gritted syllables were delivered in such a tone you would not refuse, or so it seemed.

Of the journey back nothing was known, but upon being observed arriving back at Grandmother’s house, the girl gave the basket of goods to one of her “sisters” Elizabeth Bones, and said to go with the other girls and eat, she wouldn’t be long. Miss Hood turned and ushered the man into the downstairs front bedroom.

Miss Bones stated when questioned that the man was tall, as tall a man as she had ever seen, a giant likely, and she momentarily feared for the safety of Miss Hood, for she might be crushed beneath his enormous frame. But she had brushed this thought aside, she added tearfully, with thoughts of cake… Doubtless she could have done nothing against this monster even if she had come to Miss Hood’s aid, Lumberjacke mused.

What then? Miss Bones had turned, thoughts of cake in her mind, but as the man entered the room she caught a fleeting glimpse under the shadow of that great hat of one huge eye and one enormous ear. She recalled ruefully thinking they would be all the better to see and hear with, but chided herself for such frivolous thoughts. That cold eye would give her nightmares, she said after a long pause.

Miss Hood shortly called for drink, and after a gravelled reproving voice in the background repeated verbatim, “…and the gentlemen says not one of them short bawdy house bottles, a proper size.” The ale was brought, and the door was closed into its hole.

Then the crime. Within minutes of the door touching it’s frame, the first screams, then the last cut horribly short.

Lumberjacke rubbed his beard and asked one of the passing constables to give him a cigarette. The young man obliged, first rubbing a bloodied hand on his rough dark trouser, and carefully teasing the smoke from its box without hardly touching it.

Although he very much needed to know what had happened here in order to assemble clues and form some idea of who had done this horrifying thing, the crime itself was unobserved by any living soul. The ferocity of the blows and the cuts bespoke a large and strong man, and the intricacy and precision of the posing spoke of a derangement far beyond Lumberjacke’s experience. And the girl, Miss Hood, so pretty in the single vignetted photograph by the bed, now slick with dark fresh blood. How had she come to this end? What crime had she ever committed which fit such brutal punishment?

He exhaled and rocked back in the chair as the work continued, letting the men complete their work while he tried to marshall his thoughts and regain his composure.

It was there, he could feel it. Try as he might, the scene was so, disarrayed. So seemingly random. What was the motive?

Then he felt it. It was not a pleasant feeling, but it welled up like a sudden fear of heights or a noise in the night when you are sleeping. The thought, like a tiny apologetic sliver of doom, beckoned to him, just outside of his notice, a small thought which asked politely to be heard. He dismissed it angrily three times before he relaxed and squinted cutty-eyed out of the corner of his mind, reluctantly and helplessly, and let it in.

Was the man real? Was he a demon? A wolf demon come to Earth to slay the weak and the beautiful for his own psychotic pleasure? That was nonsense, he protested weakly, base hysterical tosh! But was it? Was the unknown a lie simply because it was as yet unknowable? The thought tried again. It craved his attention more strongly and he listened grimly to it’s message.

Do the fallen gods crave to mutilate and destroy the bodies of men and women for their own edification? In the absence of our praise and worship do the fallen reach out and take the red water of our life and meat of our bones? In these cobbled streets of night do they take their red and pink worship in the form of our blood and flesh?

With the still, cold ripple of realisation in the pit of his stomach, like the flickering knife which had just stolen worship from the flesh and blood of poor Mary Hood, he knew in his heart it was true.

THE END

You can tell the amount of relish I poured into this story. It’s a dark tale, and befitting my feeble attempt at emulating the Dream King comes from an angle that you might not expect. I don’t know about you but I love Ripper stories, and I’ve always wanted to do one. But Red Riding Hood as a Ripper story, have no clue where that came from and it didn’t occur to me until I sat down to write. It was a flicker of an idea from my subconscious and I went with it.

I found out after about 2 nanoseconds research that Neil Gaiman has already done his own version of Red Riding Hood, of course he has. As by this point he’s written so many stories covering every conceivable mashup and reworking of popular myths and odd slants on fairy tales, I’d be more surprised if he hadn’t. But I went with it anyway because a) I REALLY wanted to write the story once I’d thought of it, and b) ploughing ahead and making it work even if you think it’s impossible is something I encourage my students to do, even if it “fails”. It’s up to you to decide if I was successful.

The thing is Neil’s style is quite hard to categorise, but you know it when you see it. There is a magic realism edge to almost everything he does, wether fantasy of science fiction, and mythical beasts lurk in the shadows of all his tales. You don’t so much write like Neil as a attempt to psychically channel him.

I couldn’t find any commentaries about his work so a quick trawl of the internet came up with the following:

He starts with the whole story, then tells why
He writes outside the box, full of magical realism
He crafts a thorough setting, vivid places

Okay, I don’t really know if any of that’s true, but it sounded right. So you start out telling the whole story and then backtrack and explain how it happened. That way of you foretell something horrible is about to happen you get a fair amount of suspense. You write outside the box, coming at the reader from odd angles they don’t expect and introducing elements which don’t necessarily belong in the story but make them work and creatively sew them into the fabric of what you’re doing. And finally make sure that the overall flavour of the environment you are telling the story in is alive with gorgeous telling details.

To get a feel for the era, I read a wonderful book, The “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” which is available many places online. It contains many slang phrases which are long out of use but provide a tangy flavour of the times, phrases like “cutty eyed” or “my eye Betty Martin” or “Shut your bone box” and the concept of “bawdy house bottles” being short measures. In fact the title “a wolf in the stomach” is slang for being hungry. The original title was “an ordinary demon” and you can argue which was better yourself.

So I laid out the direction of the story pretty fast in the opening paragraph. It’s totally clear where we are and what we’re talking about. If this story was part of an anthology you would assume we were talking about Jack the Ripper, but of course you get clues, Grandma, Grandma’s House, Miss Hood, the Wolf and pretty soon you are getting the idea. Then we explain how we got here.

The out of the box element is the detective’s speculations about the gods, and how fallen gods might seek their worship in other ways. I have to say I really liked that little twist. It could have just been an ordinary murderer or maybe a werewolf, but that was for want of a real word, not really “Gaimany” enough for me. If you want to write like Neil then you have to go the extra mile, you have to not just put a twist on your stories but twist them around a few more turns. Then you stand back whistling and act like nothing is wrong, even point somewhere else in the room and say “what’s that over there”, and let the audience find the extra twists, and smile when they do.

Neil Gaiman is by this point not so much a writer as he is a magician and showman with words. What he’s saying is not very complex and if you look under the hood (if you’ll pardon the pun) what he’s actually doing is (like the secrets behind all baffling illusions) almost mundane. But the massive degree of showmanship, misdirection and distraction of the settings and overall mood lull you into a sense of security, wandering along looking at the scenery. Then BAM you wake up and you are off the beaten track and you wonder how he persuaded you to go so far away from home.

He is the Derren Brown of magical realism.

oOo

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How to write like . . . Douglas Adams

Third in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Today I give you another retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm and in the style of the late, sorely missed, Douglas Adams. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it. So now, let’s get to it…

 

Zen and the Art of Whup-ass
(after 
Douglas Adams)

VOICE OF A BOOK: (over twinkly starlike music) In the Nut Tree Nebula there is a planet known as Three Oaks, a surprisingly named place because a) there more than three oaks there, and b) in fact every piece of land on the entire planet is covered with trees.

It was speculated in the past that the name comes not from three OAKS, but three YOLKS. But this has since been discredited as a transparent ruse by the Three Oaks Egg Marketing Board. Someone certainly had egg on their face.

In any event you would assume, and who could blame you, that the major industry of a planet covered in trees would be wood.

And bird guano.

And actually those are two of the major industries, but not THE major industry…

This eventually became clear to ARTHUR DONT, an Earthman, and FRED PERFECT, an Alien of deliberately indeterminate lineage, who at the time of our story were strolling nonchalantly along in the forest of infinite unbroken trees. They had clearly just been jogging as they both had towels around their necks. Although on closer inspection neither had broken a sweat, both were a little paunchy, and it was impossible to run in a straight line on that planet for longer than about 4 seconds without running into a tree. In any event, they had towels.

Fred is about to explain to Arthur why they can’t leave.

FRED PERFECT: We can’t leave, we haven’t seen all the sights. I tell you Arthur, this place is amay-zing, you dig? Trees as far as the eye can see…

ARTHUR DONT: Which is not very far because of all the trees. At this point I’m craving a cup of tea and any kind of view that’s not obscured by tree trunks.

FRED: But don’t you feel at one with nature, surrounded by all this wood?

ARTHUR: Can’t see the wood… too many trees! And what sights? All we’ve seen for four days is trees. All the same. All on the same level.

FRED: Communing with nature, come on, doesn’t it speak to you, man?

ARTHUR: I talk to the trees, but like YOU, Fred… they don’t listen to me.

FRED: Okay okay, I get it. You wanna go. According to the guide it’s actually not far to the next ranger station, somewhere called Grand Mars Haus?

VOICE OF A BOOK: And indeed it wasn’t far, because a mere quarter league further down the road (or the distance it takes a man to stumble in bedroom slippers across bracken in an hour) in a grove of the aforementioned Woodfer Trees, they arrived at the Grand Mars Haus Ranger station.

FRED: Hello? Anybody home?

ARTHUR: Why do they paint Ranger stations to look like cottages made out of candy?

FRED: Tradition I think. Hello?

RANGER: (muffled) Hello? Who’s there?

FRED: Ah hello, you don’t know us, but we are Fred Perfect and Arthur Dont, tourists. We were wondering if you could direct us to the next transport station, or perhaps give us a lift?

RANGER: (muffled) Ah. Please come in, lift the latch and come in.

ARTHUR: For some reason I have a very bad feeling about this.

VOICE OF A BOOK: Inside the dark and dingy station the Ranger loomed large, a huge furry creature stuffed into a tiny ranger uniform clearly not meant for him.

FRED: Oh, hello. Gosh, sorry but er what big eyes you have.

RANGER: All the better to see you with. In fact they are very sensitive to light so can you close the door, there’s a good chap.

FRED: Of course. (FX: creak, slam)

ARTHUR: And sorry to mention it but I’m struck by, well, what big ears you have.

RANGER: Bit personal.

ARTHUR: Sorry.

RANGER: Okay so they are, you know, all the better to hear you with, but veeerrrrrry sensitive so stop shouting.

ARTHUR: (softly) sorry.

FRED: And er, can’t help noticing, but you know, what big, uh, oh dear, teeth you, er…

RANGER: Okay, enough already… (FX: growl, gnash, scream, GULP)

FRED: (inside the Ranger) Arthur?

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Yes?

FRED: (inside the Ranger) I don’t think this guy is the Ranger.

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Whatever gives you that idea?

FRED: (inside the Ranger) Apart from the fact he just gobbled us up whole, you mean?

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Oh be quiet. At least there are no trees in here.

(FX: muffled knock knock from outside)

RANGER: (muffled) Who’s there?

LITTLE RED: (muffled) It’s Little Red, come to deliver cake and wine.

RANGER: (muffled) Please come in, lift the latch and come in. Ha ha ha… Oh shit!

(FX: Roar, battle sounds followed by final howling roar and a disgusting wet ripping sound.)

LITTLE RED: You boys okay in there?

ARTHUR: Thank god you opened him up in time and let us out. Although now there’s air around my face oh god I can smell how bad this is… Augh! Who are you, anyway, slightly built, gore covered woman?

LITTLE RED: I’m Little Red. I don’t open up wolves. I open up cans of whup-ass. This laser axe here is my can opener.

FRED: Ah. Thats a bit of cliché, isn’t it?

LITTLE RED: You got a smart mouth for a man covered in giant wolf guts.

FRED: Point taken.

LITTLE RED: Let’s go, I’ve got a ship waiting. Zipgun Beetlebrows needs you. Bring the monkey.

ARTHUR: (fade into distance) You know Zipgun? What is whup-ass? Is it a martial art? Where are we going? Is there tea? Hey, what monkey?!?

VOICE OF A BOOK: And so it was that our heroes found their way out of the forest through the guts of an evil wolf creature from the planet Grimm, reconnected with their friend Zipgun Beetlebrows via their meeting with the tiny but gorgeous warrior princess, Little Red, and how they established that when all’s said and done, planet Three Oaks’ major industry was in fact small, feisty, bipedal female-dispensed cans of whup-ass.

THE END

 Another enormously satisfying pastiche based on my love of dear late Douglas’ work.

The keynotes of his style are a razor wit, word play, and an attitude culled from the different parts of his personality. Ford Prefect, or Fred Perfect as he is known here, was the classless, adventurous guy who’d been everywhere and done everything, travelled widely and knew how to do things. He was enthusiastic and up for new experiences. Arthur Dent, or Dont as I have him here, was the opposite, middle class curmudgeon wearing a dressing gown and slippers who didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, was constantly grumbling, wanting tea and not being able to get it anywhere they travelled, and contantly self depreciateing and yet wanting to be appreciated.

These two opposing personalities were the driving force of the Hitchhiker’s series, and I feel they were aspects of Douglas, wanting to be the adventurous Ford, but feeling like Arthur. Travelling and experiencing the sensual pleasure of new things and places and experiences, but being a bit crestfallen that he couldn’t get a proper cup of tea anywhere but home. Their arguments and bickering drove the plot and gave Douglas time to put forth his own ideas about Life, The Universe and Everything through the opinions of his cast.

All the place and character names, like in Philip K Dick’s work, are puns or jokes, but in common with Sir Terry Pratchett they are much more overt, staunchly British, and much less in-jokey than PKD. You always knew with Douglas, as with Sir Terry, that if someone had an obviously funny name which was begging for a joke, that at some point that joke, the very reason they were named that way, would be along shortly and would be worth the wait. Slartibartfast springs to mind.

And the woman were always very strong in his tales, modern women who stood up for themselves and never took any BS from the clearly childish male characters. In tight situations it was the women, and in rare cases and to his own surprise more than anyone Arthur, who stepped up and saved the day.

Douglas also had this way of writing long sentences with many clauses, sometimes with two or three asides inserted within commas, and yet no matter how long or wordy the sentences got, he refined and doubtless said them out loud until they read smoothly and naturally.

When all was said and done Douglas had a lot to say about life and had an unquenchable thirst for it. He chose comedy as a platform for his ideas, the way PKD chose science fiction as a platform for his philosophy. I tend to think of his stories not as stories, not in the way Neil Gaiman tells stories, but as yarns, a tall tale which entertains and informs while leaving you with a happy camp fire glow, and the comfort of knowing you can always come back to it or retell it to each other whenever you want to.

oOo

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How to write like . . . David Lynch

Second in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Today I give you another retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it. So now, without much further ado, and not that there has been any ado before now…

Deep Red Night
(After 
David Lynch)

EXT. FOREST – NIGHT
A red haired young woman, LITTLE AUBURN, about 19 years old, in a blue hooded sweatshirt is walking along a forest path. A supermarket grocery bag in her hand. She has white cutoff trousers and silver glittery shoes. She seems ill at ease. Her shoes tick tick tick on the path and echo a little. The wind blows in the trees, whipping the tops making a lot of noise. She pulls up the hood over her hair and walks more quickly. Before the fade there is a faint throaty laughter and a dog barking.

FADE TO:

INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT
MOM is in the bright colourful kitchen wearing a 50s style house dress and apron, cleaning up after baking. The curtains are full length and dark green and the floor is a geometric black and white pattern. It has the flavour of 1950s diner about it.

There is a vinyl record playing on a record player. She wipes the tops and brushes flour off the top into her hand. She puts a book back on the shelf, “BAKING FOR MOMS” and the old fashioned wall telephone rings. She takes off the apron and answers it, brushing flour from her front with the apron. Halfway through the conversation she bends down and picks up a large sink plunger and holds it ready, as if preparing for her next task.

MOM

Hello?
 (shouts as to deaf person)
Hello! Hi mom! Yes. I know you’re not well, you called me earlier, remember? I’ve sent LITTLE AUBURN over with some wine and some cake! Wine and cake! Mulled wine and a little carrot cake! Carrot! For the love o’Mike, mom, wine and cake! Did you lose the batteries in your hearing aid? What? No don’t turn it off to save the the batteries! I keep telling you they are not expensive, and there’s no point if you can’t… Anyway I told her to stay on the path and to take great care! Care, not hair! No, of course I didn’t go with her! I’m talking to you now on the phone. Jeez Louise, mom!

The record skips and repeats the same notes over and over and Mom looks at the skipping record with a strange look of foreboding on her face.

FADE TO:

EXT. FOREST – NIGHT
LITTLE AUBURN walks along the path, tick tick tick, and an uneasy just audible drone begins on the soundtrack as she walks. She walks faster and faster and the trees rustle louder and louder. Eventually she’s running. She looks behind her as she runs.

She runs and runs and the drone gets louder until BAM!

She finally gets to a road and a car blazes past, horn going, almost mowing her down. The hood falls back reveling her hair and an apple drops from the bag and leaps out of the bag all in slow motion. The apple drops on the ground in slomo and comes to rest. She gasps for breath, looks around and catches her breath. She smiles, the shock has emboldened her. She seems to be relaxing a little.

LITTLE AUBURN

Don’t run off the path. I will take great care. Don’t run off the…

WOLF

 (off screen)
Good evening, Little Red Haired Girl.

LITTLE AUBURN

Woah! Who’s there? Stay back, Mister, I got a knife.

She grabs a butter knife out of the bag and flourishes it about inexpertly.

A shadowy figure leans agains a tree on the other side of the road. He’s smoking a cigarette. He laughs genially and flicks the butt.

WOLF

Woah yerself, ginger. Cool your jets, no need for the blade, mon cheri. I don’t bite, although my name is Mr WOLF. That might be a hair hard to swallow, but I maintain that I mean you no harm. Now tell me, child, where might you be going to, in such an all-fired hurry on this fine night?

LITTLE AUBURN

 (uncertainly)
Grandma’s house.

WOLF

I see. What’s in the, uh, bag?

LITTLE AUBURN

What?

WOLF

The bag. Le sac. The gladstone. What’s in the tote, mon petite dejuner?

LITTLE AUBURN

Oh, the bag, it’s cake. Carrot cake. And wine, mulled wine. Some, uh, fruit. My grandma is ill, and I’m taking her wine and cake. And fruit. T-t-to grandma’s house. Her house. F-f-for grandma.

WOLF

Understood, understood. And forgive me, but where might it be, this, “Grandma’s house”, eh?

LITTLE AUBURN

A good three quarters of a mile yonder on into the wood, under the three oaks? With the nut trees below? You surely must know it.

As he replies we sometimes see his eyes. Piecing blue.

WOLF

That I do. Three quarters of a mile, eh? What they’d call a quarter league in the olden days. Heh heh. You know a league was defined as the distance a man could go on a horse in an hour? Not many people recall that in these crazy times.
 (beat)
Listen to me rambling, you’ll be getting cold. Be on your way, but take your time, sugar. Smell the flowers, enjoy the air. Don’t rush! Hop skip. I’ll stand guard and mind you aren’t followed. Okay?

LITTLE AUBURN

Uh okay. Thanks Mr WOLF. Sorry about the knife thing. You’re very kind.

WOLF

Not a problem.

LITTLE AUBURN

Well goodnight then.

WOLF replies with a rigid wave of the hand like a sideways karate chop.

She crosses the road and strolls off into the darkness. The drone begins again, more loudly this time, along with some echoing music, perhaps a Jazz tune with a brushed snare drum, upright bass and finger snaps.

Mr WOLF emerges from the shadows. He is a thin, good looking young man, with black slicked back hair, a quiff and long sideburns. He is wearing a purple suit. He walks to where LITTLE AUBURN was standing and watches her vanish into the dark.

We see briefly behind him and not too clearly a dog crosses the path and disappears into the foliage.

Mr WOLF makes a soft coyote howl as he looks up at the full moon and begins to talk to it.

WOLF

Oh mother moon, what a tender young creature! What a nice plump mouthful! She will be better than the old woman. I must be crafty so as to catch both.

He goes as if to howl again, but stops when he sees the apple she dropped. He picks it up. He tosses and catches it. He regards it in his hand for a second then takes a huge crisp bite out of it, and while chewing with his mouth open begins to laugh around the huge juicy mouthful.

Still laughing and chewing he swings a large axe up onto his shoulder and follows LITTLE AUBURN as if he has all the time in the world.

THE END

oOo

and now my COMMENTARY

Again this was enormous fun as I am a giant fan of David Lynch, and have seen most of his films more than once. I have also read a number of commentaries of his work.

The thing to bear in mind about David Lynch is that he is a surrealist painter first and a filmmaker second. His stories are more like moving paintings. Events sometimes don’t make a lot of sense, and critics and viewers often assume that these events are “random” or “wacky” in some way. The thing is they are almost always deliberate, and yet Lynch is not necessarily completely aware of what it means either. He employs internal logic, often culled from dreams or daydreams, and goes with his gut about wether something belongs in the story or not.

Almost everything in his films is there as symbolism or humour.

Dogs and Record players are almost always significant, usually heralds of some kind of evil. Often he uses colours for the same ends. You may recall he has a fondness for red curtains and black and white tiled floors.

People in Lynch movies speak somewhat archaic 1950s English. They frequently seem as though they are in fact IN the 1950s no matter what the date on the calendar. In fact they speak such odd phrases I felt totally able to drop some of the dialogue in verbatim from the original classic Grimm tale.

Sound is very important, and he uses sound with these symbolic cues, dogs, curtains, swaying trees etc. to convey uneasy moods and impending doom.Sometimes sound is speeded up, sometimes it is reversed. But it is all deliberate and not at all random.

What’s the sink plunger about? Humour. Often characters will hold random objects while speaking. Sometimes it’s the actors choice and Lynch goes with it because it feels right. Sometimes he will get an urge to include something because it’s found on set. Sometimes he brings it in specially.

What is the significance of the apple? It falls out of the basket and the wolf guy finds it and gobbles it up without hesitation. A metaphor for gobbling her and her grandma up? Unlikely as it seems chopping them with the axe is on his mind. Perhaps it’s nod back to the original tale but in any case  it’s entirely up to the audience as to what that means to them. I know what I think it means to me but it’s an abstract thought, something which can only be conveyed with a series of pictures.

That’s the essence of David Lynch, sound and pictures, living paintings. It’s all about mood and overall feel rather than specifics of story and plot.

oOo

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How to write like . . . Philip K Dick

This is the first in a series of 7 pastiches of famous authors, not purely for my own benefit although clearly I enjoyed writing them enormously. No, there is a serious purpose. Not only will I write you seven versions of the Red Riding Hood story, but I will add commentaries at the end to tell you how they were made and what decisions I made to write the text as much like the original author as possible. There is a reson this is a good thing. Pastiche gives you insight into an authors style and work, and making pastiches, even if you never publish them, gives you valuable practise and insight into how things work.

I have drawn my targets from my own taste but also authors I think you will enjoy seeing dissembled. As well as Philip K Dick I’ve done Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and a few surprise ones. This is going to be fun.

Today I give you my first retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm. In the next post I shall give you the matching commentary as to how this was written and how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it.

Our Friends From Forest 9
(after Philip K. Dick)

Girla Redcap was having a difficult morning. Wood Huntsman videolinked and asked if she’d done her psych evaluation this month.  Her personalities outvoted her three to one, so she was a noshow. She said sure, knowing full well he’d run down here and chop her when he inevitably checked and discovered she was lying. Huntsman was the company axe man, but only a part time asshole. She might get lucky. The odds were with her. Only three disappearances last night and a psychic load of no more than three Gretels this morning, well within tolerances.

But then her mother told her that her grandma was ill again and could she take her government sanctioned Snax rations with some wine and cake so the old dear didn’t die. Or disappear, she added darkly. Girla said she would, but slipped out back of the re-condo first chance she got before her mom could hand her the basket.

No way was she driving a quarter league through the woods to Three Oaks and Grandma’s house, not alone. That old bird was crazy. Always ranting about BB Wolf coming back. Many people thought he was on his way, the vids were full of it, pictures of him all huffin and puffin. But most people of Girla’s generation had no recollection of him, too young, too long ago. Some said he was just a legend and not in a good way, more like a scary bedtime story. Girla had a twisty feeling in her stomach just thinking about it. The literally last thing Earth needed right now, with all the people randomly disappearing into thin air, was its most famous long lost son returning from the alternate dimension we dropped him into, with grizzled hairs on his chinny chin chin and pig meat in his teeth.

She leaned on the porch wearing her red shirt, the hood pulled over her short black hair while she popped a Grimmbro pill and lit a coca leaf cigarette, Aztec Gold brand. Those SoAm imports sure did taste good. What did they put in them? And what big eyes you had after. All the better to see with, she mused.

Then she stopped… An odd ripple in her stomach and an odd lurch sideways in her head, like her inner ear was stepping out for a moment. She noticed her cigarette was missing. Had she dropped it? She looked around. Only discarded Snax wrappers. When she reached into her pocket, the pack of smokes was gone too, only a cold spot in the cloth where it used to be. The lighter was also missing. And her IDpass and keys. The air smelled like electricity and oil. What the hell?

Urgently, with numb fingers she fumbled the door and eased back into the kitchen. Her mother was baking, which was unusual. The smell of scorched fauxpastry filled her nostrils. She froze. Why was her mom wearing a fur hat? Even though Girla had entered the room without a sound her mom spoke immediately without turning.

“The wine and the cake are in the bag, be sure grandma eats them” she purred.

Girla’s mouth was dry. “How did you hear me, what big ears you have…”

Mom chuckled wetly like her tongue was in the way. “All the better to hear you sneaking up on me.”

Something was way off, the room looked wrong. The pictures were not of her and her mom, and as mom turned to face her, empty baked pie crust and knife in hand, eyes as big as saucers and teeth like razor shells, she knew the answer like a cold metal bead in the bottom of her stomach.

BB Wolf was already back, he had been for some time, and was gobbling up humanity one inter-dimensional bite at a time.

THE END
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and now my COMMENTARY

For starters I am a huge fan of Philip K Dick so this first pastiche was an easy one for me. I’ve also read a few books about his work and the reasons behind his style because he was such an interesting character. This is actually a good starting point for any author if you want to pastiche someone’s work, get the Cliffs Notes or Sparknotes study guides or other commentary books on the work of the person you admire. This is always a good way into the work because the reviewers may point out themes and ideas that you are not aware of.

The story contains what I consider to be some classic PKD flourishes, so let me point them out.

Names: Dick always had fun with names and they were almost always in-jokes or puns.

At the very least they were stream of consciousness syllables which sounded superficially like proper names but were made up. Wood Huntsman is a typical example. From the original tale I took the Huntsman, who in some versions is called the woodsman or wood cutter, and made him a peripheral character. I added a joke about being an axe man just to ram the point home.

The main character is called Girla Redcap, nodding back to the original story. It’s like a contraction of Girl of the Red Cap, or Girla Madreams, a fairly typical punny name. And the bad guy is BB Wolf, short for Big Bad Wolf, actually a character from the Three Little Pigs. This is also a typical PKD move, obliquely referring to characters from another of his stories. This implies that the stories all take place in the same universe.

Obscure systems of measurement and product names: I have no idea what Gretels are or what they measure, and neither would PKD but he would include a lot of references to such things that were unexplained in the text, leaving you to make assumptions about what they mean. These would be added for local colour and to add texture to the world, leading you to believe there was more to know, more artwork outside the frame so to speak.

A re-condo is like a condo, a Gretel is a sort of measure of psychic load, whatever that means, but it’s okay because they are “within tolerances”. In other words pay them no mind. The characters are familiar with the meanings of all these measurements and don’t explain them, so that like someone entering a conversation halfway through, we ignore the bits we don’t get in the hope it will make sense overall. We are like guests at a dinner party who don’t want to seem ill informed, and PKD relies on this impulse.

There are always drug use references in his works as he himself was a well known self medicater. Grimmbros is a refernce to the Grimm Brothers and the cocaine cigarettes with the smirking and yet credible brand name are another PKD flourish.

Snax rations does two things, adds a science fiction flavour (soylent green?) and implies rationing of some kind, so perhaps this takes place after a war? SoAm is short for South America, another thing he played with a lot was place names, everything had meaning in his stories and he wasn’t too fussy about the meaning being unknown or obscure. Place names change, it sounds more sci-fi to abbreviate names, even names of countries. It is a cliche to do this now in dystopian SciFi, but when Phil Dick did it it was a new idea.

Psych evaluation and warped perception: DIck was mildly unbalanced most of his life and his work is pervaded by an intense interest with perception, identity, reality and what they all mean. Warping of reality, people who don’t really know who they are or are not sure, and never being totally certain of your own mind, are classic PKD hallmarks.

Dark haired girls: lots of PKD stories contain dark haired girls in important roles. Sometimes they arrive to rescue the hero, sometimes they arrive to trick him, but they almost always arrive. Their hair is short, it is dark, and they are here with a purpose.

Returning heroes/villains: in quite a few stories there is someone important returning from somewhere, space, time, another dimension, and their arrival is a timer of sorts. Stuff needs to happen before they get back. The returning person is either a saviour or a destroyer. In our story it’s the Big Bad Wolf, and it’s too late he’s already here.

Stylish but almost EC Comics endings: I used to love reading his short stories as a kid. And nothing chills the crap out of you in the middle of the night reading by torchlight than sudden terrifying endings.

Okay, that’s it. If you have any questions by all means email me phil at writingfit dot com and ask.

oOo

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Authentic Ideas Fit Better

It’s true. You know how when you get a bunch of random ideas and try and force them to fit together into a story or a plot how they fit together badly like old Lego which has been under a radiator for months? The problem is with those ideas is that they are random. You are trying to force the issue and bolt together random stuff. It’s inevitable.

This is the trouble when you try and be wacky. Or try to be authentic. Or try to be something you are not. It’s an amazing thing but you know the way to make your ideas fit together? Be authentic. If you are in the proper creative state and you let the ideas flow rather than force them out then they have a unity you don’t get from desperate randomness.

But then authenticity, being yourself and not trying to be something you are not, is the cornerstone of all good writing. Scratch that – it’s the cornerstone of all good art, full stop. You have to be real, you have to be you. Don’t try and be a sci-fi author if you don’t read it. Don’t try to write a young adult book if you are just doing it to make money. Don’t write literary novels just to win the Man Booker prize.

Don’t jump into a foxhole with a load of other writers, and do wizards or vampires or middle aged newly divorced women finding love while selling their marital villa in Provence… Find a niche for yourself. CREATE ONE! And for goodness sake write what you write to please you, a fan of your own genre, and if you are authentically someone who writes philosophical science fantasy mexican wrestler novels, then do that.

Don’t do that last one, that’s my niche.

oOo

Recommended Reads
Now you know as well as a writer I am also a hypnotist. If you didn’t you do now. I use it a lot in my creativity coaching, and one of my favourite hypnosis books, well I suppose its an audiobook, is Igor Ledochowski’s “Conversational Hypnosis”. It’s a kind of retooling and updating of the kind of hypnosis that the great grandaddy of hypnosis Milton Erickson used to do. It’s old school, but in a very real sense it’s new school as well as Erickson’s work was also the basis for what they call NLP. Igor’s programme takes you through all the stages of conversational hypnosis, that is to say hypnosis you do to people while talking. There is no official “trance state” but the person you are talking to is hypnotised. They just aren’t aware of it. This isn’t some creepy mind control thing, and it’s almost impossible to use something like this for evil ends, but it does make you more persuasive in conversation. Thinking about language in this way makes you a much better writer, trust me. If you don’t believe me have a LOOK.

My second tip is the excellent “Writesparks!” software by Shery Ma Belle Arrieta-Russ. (As WC Fields would say, what a euphonious appellation!) Using this software you can generate over 10 million starting points and kick offs for your work. I really like this program, and the only downside for me is I’m a Mac user and I have to run an emulator to use it, but it’s a great program and I am all about having options. For music I use about 4-5 different pieces of software to jog my creativity. On the writing side I have “Writesparks!” and a few other things including a program by Joe Vitale for generating Hypnotic writing, that is to say copywriting which is more compelling because it’s hypnotically based. That said Joe’s program is not for every situation. Shery’s program generates plot points and randomises characters and starting lines. It’s brilliant. It’s not the best looking program, but give me a tool that does the job and you can skip the paint job, you know what I mean? Check it out HERE.